When To Wear Jeans

I go to a fair number of conferences where speakers are up on a stage (in front of hundreds or thousands). Over the years, I’ve noticed that the acceptable dress code for speakers has changed.

A few decades ago, male speakers always wore a suit and tie. Female speakers wore a dress or pantsuit. Both were formal in their dress. I suppose this was not only to signal that they were “pros,” but also because most of us attending conferences dressed in business attire. Back in the day, that may have included a suit.

I’ll never forget when I saw leadership guru Simon Sinek speak at a CEO business conference about 10 years ago. He was one of the first speakers I noticed that dressed more informally. In fact, I recall that he was NOT wearing a jacket. He wore jeans with a shirt (sleeves rolled up) and his well-known orange watch (orange is his favorite color).

Then I started noticing a trend at conferences—thought leadership speakers, who were comfortable with themselves, always dressed casually. It became obvious to me that they had nothing to prove to their audiences; they were comfortable in their own skin. So they dressed like they always dress, in their comfort clothes.

So Simon Sinek was part of my inspiration to change the way I dress when I attend conferences or do public speaking. You will almost 100 percent of the time find me in dark jeans. I feel it humanizes me. It makes me more relatable and approachable as a speaker.

Have you ever thought about that? What vibe do you give out with the way you dress? Do you want to be perceived as rigid or flexible? Approachable or aloof? Easy to talk to or set in your ways?

Especially in business, I think it’s an important factor to take into consideration when dressing for a meeting, event or conference.

I’ll never forget the day a few years ago when we had a visit from one of our growers. I had come to work a bit dressed up and my grower relations person gave me a look. I asked, “Should I go home and change into my jeans and boots before our grower arrives?” She nodded. Thankfully I live close to my office and ran home to change. Funny thing—when I was meeting with the grower later that afternoon, he commented to me, “I feel so comfortable with you, Karen. I had a meeting with someone from another company and they looked so uptight in their suit. I don’t feel like they understand me and my business challenges.” Those unsolicited comments just confirmed my theory: how you appear (your clothing and style) can influence a deal or a relationship. It can make you more relatable.

What inspired me to write about this? I was reading a paper (online) and noticed an executive was on stage at a conference talking about future trends and consumers. It didn’t make sense to me that the executive was dressed in a suit and tie. If he was talking about future trends, I think he should have been dressed like Simon Sinek. In jeans and rolled-up shirt sleeves. He would have looked like he was in tune with consumer trends.

So next time you are getting dressed to do public speaking or to attend a conference or event, think about how you want to be perceived. Wearing jeans might just be the right touch. Not to mention the fact that you will be much more comfortable. Who knows, maybe the next trend will be yoga pants that are disguised as dress pants?